Building New Live Beings
Samuel Bottani, University Paris Diderot
Synthetic Biology is an emerging discipline that seeks to convert genetic engineering from what today is a technically challenging art to a field more similar to the traditional engineering disciplines (civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, software, etc.) which have well defined tools, and practices for designing and constructing new objects. The goal of this new engineering is the capacity to build efficiently biological systems able to fulfill particular purposes. These purposes may be specialized functions for useful application or means of gaining fundamental biological understanding.
According to the Synthetic biology paradigm, a synthetically programmed cell incorporates a number of interacting subsystems that operate successfully as a result of extensive characterization and educated design. Traditional engineering sciences, as electronics and mechanics, take great advantage of sophisticated computer assisted design programs. Such successful software were made possible thanks to the detailed understanding of the fundamental laws of Physics for Electricity, Mechanics, Thermodynamics etc.... A similar level of understanding is clearly missing in Biology and the rules behind molecular and gene expression dynamics must still be characterized with greater details. Such as, for instance, the effects on gene expression of cell internal architectural arrangement and how biochemical reactions operate in the crowded intra-cellular medium. Hopefully, far reaching advances in micro-fabrication and imaging technologies provide unprecedented views and monitoring of single individually identified living cells. These progresses open the way to the quantitative characterization of biological parts and better modeling of the molecular processes needed to build new cells.